The quest for 180 degrees of turnout can be daunting for dancers. The attempt of increasing turnout, especially to the degree that is required for classical ballet, is often the cause of numerous over-stress syndromes and injuries in dancers. Many dancers experience pain in the hip, knees or ankles as a result of improper use of turnout. So, how can we increase our turnout without constantly injuring our bodies?
HOW TURNOUT WORKS
You have 6 Deep External Rotators that are the primary creators of turnout. They are located deep underneath your gluteal muscles, and sit around the back of the hip under the line of your leotard.
They connect to and around your Greater Trocanter (the lumpy bone that can be felt if you stick out the side of your hip). Try placing your hand on your Greater Trocanter and imagine that is the pivot point for the head of your femur (thigh) to turnout. Although other muscles do aid in turnout, you will find the most success of increasing turnout by strengthening and learning to activate this muscle group.
WHAT CAN GO WRONG AND WHY
Gripping to increase turnout-Although the Gluteus Maximus does play a role in external rotation it's important to not grip with your gluteals to try to hold turnout (especially Gluteus Maximus and Gluteus Medius). Gripping can be the reason why you might develop a lot of tension in the gluteal area. This tension can restrict your range of motion and might even result in low back pain over time. Also, your gluteal muscles are important to help you jump, so if they are already being used for turnout, then they either won’t be available to be used for jumping, or, if they let go of their job to turn out, then you will struggle to control your turnout in allegro.
Not being in a neutral pelvis- It is only when the pelvis is in neutral that full range of motion can be achieved. A posterior or Anterior Tilt of the pelvis will not only cause the wrong muscles to work, but will also cause the head of the femur to not sit correctly in the hip socket.
Over working Inner Thighs for turnout.- Many dancers feel as though their inner thighs are an important part of increasing turnout. It is important to know that the inner thighs do support turnout in some positions, standing on one leg for example. However, they are not really "turnout muscles". Tightness in the inner thighs could even cause the legs to turn in more.
Turning out with the lower leg line- We all know this is a big no no, but still see people jamming their feet into the floor and standing with no muscular activation. This type of forced turnout can lead to pronation of the feet,gripping of the outside of the lower legs, and puts a lot of strain on the ankle and knee. This can lead to a laundry list of other issues!
HOW TO TRAIN TURNOUT
1)Start lying on your side with your knees together and your heel lifted in line with the center of your body
2) Lift the top knee only as far as pelvic positioning can be maintained
*Imagine your knee is reaching away from your hip as you lift it.
FROG LYING FLAT
1) Begin lying on your back in a neutral spine and pelvis. Make sure that your Hip Bones are on the same plane as your Pubic Bone.
2)With the outside of the feet resting on the top of the chair peddle. A slight activation of the external rotators can be felt by feeling as though the knees are pulling apart.
3)Then, keep reaching knees to the side to increase turnout and press the pedal down.
*Pay close attention to your pelvis. Do not change your neutral pelvic positioning. Learning to dissociate the legs from the pelvis can be hard dancers. Also be careful in this position that it is not a passive external rotation. Your external rotators should be doing the work.
**At home try lying on your back with your feet on top of a chair or the sofa and feel your knees pulling apart to practice the position.
FOOTWORK ON DISKBOARD
Now that you have found your external rotators, see if you can keep activating them while extending the knee.
1)Start with a single leg on disk board in plie with the other leg in attitude.
2)Maintain external rotation of both legs and extend the leg that is on the Diskboard. You may notice that you have more rotation when the knee is flexed. The focus should be on maintaining turnout while extending the knee..
*The disk board can be challenging for dancers who have the habit of turning out with the lower leg line. Make sure the knee is over the center of the foot when the knee is flexed and you are maintaining external rotation of the femur when you press out.
GRAND PLIE WITH SPLIT PEDALS
Now you can put it all together with a comprehensive exercise.
1)Starting with the balls of the feet on the pedals reach knees to the side and away from base of the chair lower down to Grand Plie position. Make sure to not "tuck" the pelvis.
2)Extend knees allowing one knee to flex and bring the pedal up. Keep the turnout on the standing leg.
*Lifting the pedal up on one leg will make it more challenging to keep the pelvis level. If this can not be achieved, keep both pedals down when extending the knees.
I HOPE THIS HELPS YOU ON YOUR JOURNEY FOR A HEALTHY RANGE OF TURNOUT!
Tips for Turnout, By Lisa Howell – Physiotherapist for Dancers
Dance Medicine in Practice,, Liane Simmel